If you’ve been waking up with stiff joints (especially in the wrists and base of the fingers) or have a limited range of motion in certain joints, you may be showing early signs of rheumatoid arthritis.
While certain over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen and naproxen can help with symptom relief, Greg DeLorenzo MD, a rheumatologist at Group Health, stresses the importance of seeing your doctor as soon as you have symptoms.
“Just symptom relief isn’t appropriate,” he explains. “People should be on what we call disease-modifying medications to stop the progression, because we can, now-a-days – with medication – stop the progression of rheumatoid.”
Rheumatoid Arthritis: What is it?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. You could develop this condition at any age; however, rheumatoid arthritis usually starts in young adulthood – between ages 25 and 55 – and primarily affects women.
Common symptoms include:
- Morning stiffness – waking up with stiff joints, often in the wrists and the base of the fingers, ankles, balls of the feet, elbows or knees
- Joint pain with warmth, swelling, tenderness and stiffness of the joint after resting
- Limited range of motion in the affected joints
- Low-grade fever, when having a flare
- Small, round firm bumps, called nodules, under the skin; you can feel these, but they are generally painless
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Sooner, the Better
Treating rheumatoid arthritis early is critical for staving off its progression. “Rheumatoid, if left untreated, can destroy the joints very quickly,” Dr. DeLorenzo points out. “Also, the chronic inflammation from the immune system can cause other issues, like heart disease or lung disease.”
If you are experiencing arthritic symptoms, Dr. DeLorenzo says to visit your primary care doctor first, to see if they can give you a definite diagnosis. From there, if your doctor thinks you have rheumatoid arthritis, you will be sent to a rheumatologist, who will recommend:
- Regular exercise
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications
You will likely also be put on disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to halt the progression of the disease.
While there is no cure for this condition, Dr. DeLorenzo reminds his patients, “We are certainly getting much better at treating it.”